Dear Caring Parent,
Of course it’s in the grocery store, the restaurant, or right when you want to get to work or the gym, up comes the toddler monster! We parents wonder, why oh why do toddlers tantrum?! We know that tantrums are coming into our child’s life somewhere between their 18th and 24th month. But, oh, when they do arrive, they are so surprising! They are unpredictable, random, and of varying intensity. All of a sudden our sweet loving child is a monster! At times. We look for parenting tips, pleeeease!
And yet, we all must past through this. Tantrums lend to development of the communication between the right and left left brain for emotional calming. Our child is learning to ‘self regulate’; to calm themselves, to get organized mentally, physically and emotionally even when upset. Tantrums come at a time when they are starting to fully experience huge disappointment, a sense of powerlessness, possessiveness, and that contrary willfulness we humans have. All of these are difficult enough for us adults to deal with, let alone a little one going through this without the brain wiring for dealing.
There’s a ton of research about tantrums; that’s how mystifying they are! Tantrums tend to occur when children are tired or hungry or are having demands placed on them, says Lauren Sarah Broder. That’s why the grocery store, the restaurant, you wanting to go somewhere NOW, or you saying no when they want to sit on the chair you are sitting on, causes the big tantrum storm. Lauren’s research goes on to point out that your child’s regulatory skills can be predictive of tantrum outcomes’ (how long and how wild). And that’s precisely why your little moody toddler starts being less so as they progress into their 3rd and 4th year; they can calm themselves, find behavior options that work without flailing and screaming. That’s what you are teaching them by saying “I’ll talk to you when you are calm”, “You can have either the lollipop or the ice cream”, “You can go to bed now and I’ll read you two books or go to bed in 15 minutes and I’ll read you one book”.
It helps to know how to ‘read’ your toddlers tantrums. According to Drs. Belden and Luby, parents need to observe the following:
- Aggression: Most toddlers just fall down and kick the floor and scream at the top of their lungs. They may even hit you if you pick them up. Is your child throwing or kicking objects and/or go out of their way to kick and hit caregivers.
- Self-injury: Most toddlers may whack the floor and flair their fists. Is your toddler biting or scratching themselves or banging their head against the wall?
- Frequency: Most toddlers have less than one tantrum a day, maybe 10 – 20 a month so every other dayish. Is your child having multiple tantrums a day?
- Duration: Most tantrums are over in 5 – 20 minutes. Does your child frequently tantrum for 25 minutes or longer? This takes actual clocking because one minute of a tantrum can feel like 5 minutes.
- Ability to calm after a tantrum: Most toddlers will come to a point where they calm themselves or will let you calm them. Do you have to always remove your little one from the situation or bribe them?
Note that your child needs to be displaying one of these behaviors during 90% of their tantrums. If you are struggling with one of these, contact your pediatrician or a child counselor who can do additional assessment and provide you with more support.
If you are a science nerd, follow the work of the neuroscientists who are working on developing a simple questionnaire as a parenting resource to determine if your child’s tantrums are normal.
Tantrums are tough. So take a deep breath and accept that they are just a normal part of development. It helps! Put on your gentle voice, offer choices before and after the tantrum. Choices are utterly important to toddlers. Let them know that you will talk with them when they calm down and then do that. Be clear with them about what you are saying ‘no’ about. And again, breathe!
Take care now, Natasha